chapter  8
20 Pages

‘Not a man from England’: Assimilating the Exotic ‘Other’ Through Performance, from Henry IV to Henry VI

I’m interested in how performances at the National Theatre (NT) and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) since 2000 reflect critical concerns about national stereotyping by casting actors whose nationalities are a match for the characters they play, e.g., casting a Welsh actor as Fluellen. In addition I want to investigate the effects of casting actors from ethnic minorities in the roles of Henry V and Henry VI. I’m interested in the politics of assimilation evident in productions that use so-called ‘colour-blind’ casting alongside what I am calling ‘nationalityspecific’ casting.5 Despite inclusive casting policies, which apparently de-stabilize the presentation of Englishness within the Henries, the productions that are considered here are produced by subsidized English theatres (putatively ‘national’ institutions). I’m as interested in what these characters sound like on the English stage as what they look like, so I will also be drawing the reader’s attention to the use of accents within these productions. Following Foucault’s theory that ‘the manifest discourse … is really no more than the repressive presence of what it does not say; and this “not said” is a hollow that undermines from within all that is said’, I aim to tease out the undermining ‘not-said’s of the casting decisions taken during the NT’s and RSC’s recent stagings of Shakespeare’s Henry plays.6 Calling the casting of performers from ethnic minorities ‘colour-blind’ suggests to me a ‘not-said’ founded on a politics of assimilation. That is, theatre producers aim to portray the Histories as a narrative of national unity regardless of ‘colour’ but I suggest that this narrative of national unity is problematic and partial. Specifically, I would suggest that it is Anglo-centric.